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Protecting Americans from W's Illegitimacy

By Robert Parry
April 8, 2001

With little fanfare and outside the "conventional wisdom" of the national press corps, the Miami Herald continues to tally more missing votes for Al Gore, adding to the former vice president's lead in unofficial recounts of the Florida election.

The Herald found "a net gain of at least 210 votes for Gore" from smudged ballots in two Florida counties Orange and St. Lucia that used optical scanners, according to the third part of its series on its unofficial recount.

Yet, fitting the Herald's strange determination to depict George W. Bush as the legitimate winner despite the findings of its own tally, the Herald buried this new disclosure in the 22nd paragraph of the story.

The newspaper also does not add these new votes to the totals that show Gore ahead if other reasonable voting standards are used in evaluating punch-hole ballots that were examined in the first two stories.

In the third story, the Herald simply goes back to Bush's official lead of 537 votes and states that the additional 210 Gore votes were "not enough for victory, perhaps." [Miami Herald, April 6, 2001]

In its widely quoted and highly misleading first-day story on April 4, the Herald portrayed Bush as the recount winner. That conclusion, however, was reached only after the newspaper subtracted Gore's gains in three counties Palm Beach, Broward and Volusia and in 139 precincts of Miami-Dade County.

The Herald deducted those gains under the questionable theory that those disputed votes would not have been counted under the ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, which mandated a review of "undervotes" in the 63-plus other counties and application of a common statewide standard.

The Herald's interpretation of the ruling is dubious because it was never clear if the state courts also would inspect the disputed ballots in those three-plus counties or why those disputed votes would be treated differently than the ones in the other 63-plus counties.

That final court determination was never made because Bush's lawyers aborted the process by convincing five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the recount and effectively hand Bush the White House.

The Full Undervote 

If those three-plus counties are included in the total and if the "clear-intent-of-the-voter" standard counts partially punched holes and indentations when they appear on multiple races, indicating a defective machine Gore would have won by 299 votes, according to the Herald recount.

Using a more liberal standard of a single indentation for president, Gore's lead grew to 393 votes, according to the Herald's tally. Only with more restrictive standards, requiring a partially punched-through chad and ignoring all indentations, Bush would have prevailed by 352 votes, the newspaper said.

But those findings about the apparent will of the Florida voters were buried in the 44th paragraph of the Herald's first-day story, which focused instead on the hypothetical outcome if Palm Beach, Broward, Volusia and part of Miami-Dade were excluded.

Virtually, all national press coverage concentrated on that hypothetical finding the one most favorable to Bush and ignored the actual statewide count that showed Gore prevailing if all marked undervotes were included.

In a second-day story, the Herald reversed itself somewhat, acknowledging that Gore could have achieved net gains of 1,475 votes in Palm Beach County and 1,081 votes in Broward County if the various marks for president recorded on the ballots were counted.

"Had the Broward and Palm Beach canvassing boards used the loosest standard in judging ballots Gore almost certainly would have won," the Herald reported. "He might have gained 2,022 votes in the two counties.

"And that tally may be conservative because it excludes the cleanly punched ballots in Broward, 252 Bush votes and 786 Gore votes (another net gain of 534 votes for Gore). Broward election officials say they cannot be certain that cleanly punched ballots weren't also read during the machine count."

Now, in its third-day story, the Herald identified another net gain for Gore of at least 210 votes from two counties with optical-scanning voting machines that require circles to be filled in, not chads punched through.

Anti-Black Bias

Also, on Friday, USA Today, the Herald's partner in the recount, reported that voters in Florida's majority-black precincts were almost four times as likely to have their votes for president thrown out than voters in precincts that were heavily white.

"Black voters were more likely to have been affected by error-prone antiquated voting equipment, poorly trained poll workers and general confusion at polling places," USA Today reported.

In majority-black precincts, 8.9 percent of votes were uncounted, compared to 2.4 percent in majority white precincts, the newspaper said.

The discriminatory treatment of black voters underscores again why the Florida Supreme Court's order for a statewide solution was so important. Presumably, the court-ordered recount would have eliminated some of these biases in the voting.

But Bush did everything in his power to prevent a full and fair recount. He rejected Gore's proposal on Nov. 15 for a statewide recount and then obstructed the limited recounts that were conducted.

At one point, on Nov. 22, Republican hooligans recruited from GOP congressional staffs stormed the offices of the Miami-Dade canvassers, who reversed their decision to conduct a recount as the Republican rioters pounded on the doors and walls.

On Thanksgiving Day, the protesters were treated to a celebratory party with Wayne Newton singing "Danke Schoen" and Bush making a thankful phone call to them, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In court, Bush's lawyers continued to battle Gore's lawyers who were seeking a timely recount of at least some of the votes.

Then, when the Florida Supreme Court ordered a statewide recount on Dec. 8, Bush sent his lawyers to Washington and got five U.S. Supreme Court justices to stop the counting of votes in a presidential election for the first time in U.S. history.

On Dec. 12, the same five Republicans vacated the recount ruling leaving no time for any revisions and making Bush the president.

Rewarding Bush

Now, the Miami Herald and USA Today have rewarded Bush again, by constructing their recount findings in curious ways to guarantee that the outcome isn't changed.

The Herald first did this with a story on Feb. 26 that only looked at the Miami-Dade recount, showing Bush clinging to a narrow victory. Then, on April 4, the two newspapers fashioned their lead paragraphs to focus not on the statewide recount findings, but on the outcome if three-plus counties were subtracted from the total.

It was as if the conclusion had to be "Bush Wins" no matter what the facts were.

The rest of the national press followed that lead, summarizing the April 4 stories as meaning that Bush won the statewide recount. That erroneous interpretation rapidly became the conventional wisdom, routinely repeated by journalists now as if it were fact.

The information on the actual statewide recount buried in the 44th paragraph virtually disappeared.

The recognition of Gore's likely victory if the recounts of Palm Beach and Broward were included was highlighted in the second-day story in the Miami Herald, but that article received almost no attention in the rest of the news media.

Like that second-day story, the evidence of Gore's additional gains in optical-scanner counties has been effectively ignored.

With Bush the national popular-vote loser by more than one-half million votes and almost certainly not the first choice of Florida's voters either, the national news media apparently feels that the American people just can't handle the truth.

In its odd handling of the unofficial Florida recounts, the press corps seems to want to make Bush's apparent defeat in Florida and thus his illegitimacy a kind of state secret, something that the American people just shouldn't know.

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